Tag: microsoft

Thoughts on American citizenship

I just got an email from my company’s Global Migration team about U.S. Naturalization Workshops they’re hosting. I laughed for a bit and then smiled at the fact that this is relevant in the company and then that something like this would be offered for free. It would be a 30 minute session, 1:1 with a naturalization attorney to discuss the family situation, and the process (there’s a LOT of process).

Then I realized that this actually applies to me too. For those who don’t already know, even though I’ve lived a total of 18 years (out of my 24) in the United States, I’m still technically a citizen of the Republic of Korea. Sure, I’ve been a visa holder, and now bear a Permanent Residency, but in some ways there’s always been some sort of invisible barrier, or mark that subtlely reminded me that I was still an outsider. Growing up, this wasn’t something that really seemed to matter, other than being a mental note and a BIG inconvenience when applying for colleges, jobs, etc. When I first came back to the U.S. in 2000, I as a J-2 dependent, under my dad’s J-1. J-visas, I believe, are for foreign contract workers, without the intent to immigrate; in other words, not allowed to apply for permanent residency. At some point, I shifted to R-2 under my mom, and had it until moving to PR status. Yes, what an honor; I am now a resident alien of this country, and have my fingerprints in some database in the Department of Homeland Security. Yay.

Not surprisingly, I’ve always felt that my relationship to the U.S. government and the country itself was a bit conditional; despite growing up taught that my story is one of many millions, and virtually every person with an immigrant story in their family history (yes white people, you fall into this category too–gasp), yet something seems to happen to those people bearing the U.S. Citizen title, and enjoy privilages not available to the millions of other non-citizens living in this land.

Let me say in advance, that I don’t quite use the terms “American” and “U.S. citizen” interchangably. I know U.S. citizens that haven’t spent more than a few weeks of their adult lives in this country, and certainly don’t relate to the culture, as well as non-citizens that are working for the political campaigns, pay dues to the NRA, and have kids in American public schools. Who’s the more “American” one of those two?

Most people don’t really think about citizenship this way–they’re either born into one country or the other, and they don’t bother doing anything else. If they choose to stay in the United States, they’re generally happy about it enough, and their citizenship status to care. Even activist Americans that seem to treat the term as if holding a little bit of shame don’t deny that they’re Americans. For most people, it’s really simple–it’s something associated with the country you happen to live in; it’s something you’re born with, and no more changable than the culture you live and breathe. Having spent 2/3rds of my life in this country (and probably 90% of my formative years), and yet still not being a citizen, I’ve always thought of the concept very archaic, and with regards to the process of changing citizenship, it’s filled with rules that I never really bought into logically. As a teacher, what do you teach a kid that’s learning about Thanksgiving in school, if there are non-citizens in the room? Do you call them out to recognize that they’re different, or that this history doesn’t apply to them, or teach that there isn’t anything different, and that many cultures come together to make this country? My second grade teacher (Mrs. Halversen, Willard Elementary; Evanston, IL–if you ever see this, you’re awesome!) chose the latter, and it seemed to make sense; for natural-born and naturalized Americans, as well as foreigners and hybrids like me.

Well that’s great when you’re growing up, or in college, grad school, med school. You’re paying money (or your parents are in the form of taxes) to get an education, and people will generally assume that you’re a contributing member of society. Growing up, many of my friends were in a simlar boat, and that made it very easy to discuss the challenges, and work through the ambiguous. Besides, our pride for Naperville North, the Fighting Illini, and Chicago was far more feverent than this abstract concept of national pride. Much of that changes if you choose to work, and take those skills/knowledge that you gained while in school to make money in the great U, S of A, like I’ve chosen to do. Sure much of the multi-culturalism is there, but now that taxes, elections, and societal impact are concerned, it seems to matter so much more what color your passport is. I believe I’m contributing to the larger world, but I’ve definitely been privilaged to have grown up, and to work and live where I do.

Do I consider myself American? Haha, that’s a tough question. Historically, I’ve said no, and understood that my status made me somewhat different. Do I consider myself Asian-American? Absolutely. The feelings, privilages, and difficulties as well as my story fits very closely. Is citizenship tied to it? It probably should, more than it does, but I feel my experience would have been the same even if I had been born as a citizen. If my parents I had moved to Chicago a year earlier, I would have been a natural-born American, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. As for citizenthip, despite the fact that it should be the ultimate representation of your heart’s loyalty to a culture, usually, the reasons why someone is one or the other is completely arbitrary, and influenced far more by practical reasons than one’s loyalty to the words of Francis Scott Key.

And you know what… I think I’m okay with that. Kind of like software patents, it’s an archaic system that’s broken in so many ways, that it might as well be scrapped. But it provides some value, and in a noisy world where we need to label and generalize to live and make sense of things, it helps a great deal. It’s not a problem that many have to even think about, my parents certainly didn’t, and my kids probably won’t–but as a very small segment of the story, I feel a need to write about my experience. I’ll do that some day. In the mean time, I’ll check out this workshop =).

Thanks Global Migration team!

What are you afraid of *not* achieving?

I attended an awesome Microsoft Research Visiting Speaker session with Keith Ferrazzi last week. Keith Ferrazzi is, of course, the youngest partner in Deloitte Consulting’s history, now-CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, and the author of the New York Times Bestseller, Never Eat Alone. The book speaks of the importance of building real relationships based on emotional connections and mutual trust, to success in business and life. I haven’t read the book, but I had heard plenty about it from various sources, so I knew Ferrazzi himself would have something interesting to say, the way bestselling authors usually do, so I took a break during the middle of the day and checked it out.

The topic of the talk was called “Who’s got your back?” loosely related to another book of his of the same name. Here’s the summary from the book cover itself:

Disregard the myth of the lone professional “superman” and the rest of our culture’s go-it alone mentality. The real path to success in your career and in your personal life is through creating an inner circle of “lifeline relationships” – deep, close relationships with a few key trusted individuals who will offer the encouragement, feedback, and generous mutual support that every one of us needs to reach our full potential. Whether your dream is to lead a company, be a top producer in your field, overcome the self-destructive habits that hold you back, lose weight or make a difference in the larger world, Who’s Got Your Back will give you the roadmap you’ve been looking for to achieve the success you deserve.

The first thing that struck me was how true the above was. It seems obvious that networking is critical to professional success, everyone needs friends, and proper people skills are often the greatest barrier to massive riches. Sure, everyone understands that, but so often, it’s from the practical perspective of, “how do I use this relationship to my advantage”, or “what can I get out of this relationship”; in other words, a purely business, or tactical relationship–like a game of Risk, (or Monopoly, as I recently realized), where you form a relationship so long as it is to your personal advantage. As sad as it is, it’s often accepted as the stressful, impersonal reality of corporate life…

Or is it really? These views of the social cynic trying to climb the corporate America ladder haven’t impressed me much–mostly because I believe that all relationships, even those formed in industry are personal, and will have impact far longer than you might understand. Keith corroborated that line of thinking by asking us to think of three people that’s “got our backs”. These are three people, friends, coworkers, family, whom you trust to have your best interests in mind, and are committed to your personal and professional success. And these aren’t just the occasional mentor, or career coach (although they certainly can be)–these are three people that understand you, your dreams, and are bold enough to push/prod and challenge you when you need it. If you didn’t have three people, you’d better have a way in mind to build those critical life relationships.

Do you have three people?

When I tried to name my three in my head, a lot of names and faces bubbled up. People I’d grown up with, my parents, old mentors, pastors, friends… but *very* few actually stuck as people whom I was truly open with, and shared my dreams, hopes, fears, and ultimately people that understood me enough to help me make purpose of my life. And this isn’t to say that I’ve false-friends; rather, that I haven’t been entirely honest around the people closest to me; that even amongst my closest friends, I’ve structured a façade to build an image for myself which I would try to live up to. Holden might have called me a phony.

In any case, that question made me rethink of what my role was in ensuring my own success. I think the best advice I could glean from that was… “keep it real”.

The second question he asked was a derivative of a common childhood question about life, also frequently used as an interview question. The original was boring, but his made me think:

“What are you afraid that you won’t achieve in your life?”

All too often, I try to answer the reverse question: “What do I want to achieve?”. It’s a great question; it gets you to think with life as a blank slate, and find possibilities to get from A to B. It makes you bubble up all the idealistic things you want to accomplish. His question was different. On the surface, it’s the same, but it makes you think differently, as if life was a picture all complete, and now you had to take a big bad eraser and start wiping away dreams. It makes you ask yourself, what is most important to you? At least, that’s how I interpreted that question, and I really thought about what would be most important to me at the end of my life.

For me, it boiled down to three things:

  1. Family. Self-explanatory.
  2. Significant contribution to society–preferably a positive technological impact in the way we live, share, and reflect on our lives.
  3. Been good to my friends, family, and community–being someone that I can live with.

Fortunately, for me, the answers were nearly the same–(showing that ive minimized cognitive dissonance over the past few years); yet it gave a fresh new perspective of looking at my life in terms of things I can’t do without. It was good.

The final lessons I learned from Keith were his struggles with insecurity; the fear that you weren’t measuring up. I laughed at this point, because that’s exactly how I feel quite often; even in the face of clear success, somewhere deep down, I ask self-defeating, skeptical questions to myself, “was this a fluke?; do I really deserve this?; is this gonna be the best I’ll ever be?” It’s like I’m subtlety asking for someone to scream at me at tell me on a job well done, but even then, I might not have believed it.

He spoke of when his first book got to the NYT Bestsellers list… how instead of cheering, and being happy, he freaked out and asked those very same questions. Funny, isn’t it–that if your personality doesn’t allow you to relax, even in the face of success like this, you’ll be stressed out. The key is to work hard, be humble, but to give yourself a pat on the back from time to time.

I don’t have much else to say beyond what I”ve already said, except… I’ll definitely be attending more MSR Visiting Speaker seminars from now on. 🙂